Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Coffee Education Series

We here at the bookstore are trying something new: Starting in late April, we'll be hosting a series of cuppings and coffee education events, focused on crafting delicious coffees at home, using relatively simple and inexpensive techniques.

This series will be cumulative, but each class will be accessible to those who have not attended other classes. The classes will be small, so please register (it's free!) to insure that you will be able to attend.

We will discuss brewing great coffee at home, focusing on beans, grind, and brew method (including French Press, Clever Drippers, hand pour, and even Mr.-Coffee-type machines!).

The events will be held Tuesday nights at 6PM on 
April 24, May 1, May 15, May 22.

 If you would like to register, please email greg@midtownscholar.com. First come, first serve.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Baroida Espresso

We've been sticking with Espresso Rustico for a long time. A classic, well-balanced espresso that holds up alone, in milk, and has enough body to hold up in an Americano too.

But we always want to explore. Today, we dialed in a sample bag of Baroida Single Origin Espresso (SOE). This espresso is from the farm that gives us our current afternoon alternate coffee, so we expected to taste similar spicy, molasses notes out of it.

Boy were we wrong. The Baroida SOE explodes with fruit. Not the dark blueberries of a sun-dried coffee or the citrus notes we expected from wet-processed African coffees, but a complex brightness like apricots and cherries. "Nice," we said, "But will it hold up in milk?"

 A good espresso, like the aforementioned Rustico, shouldn't lose any of its complexity when milk is added. The milk tends to mellow out the acidity and highlight the sweetness of espresso. Bright, fruity espressos, when done well, remain interesting and fruity (if somewhat mellowed) in milk. Bright espressos, when done poorly, become very boring with milk.

I had low expectations for this Baroida SOE; not because I don't trust Counter Culture's roasting team, but because I didn't think something so powerfully fruity up front would survive in milk.

Of course, I was wrong. The macchiatos we made with the last of the sample bag tasted like apricot jam, or a fresh fruit cobbler. Warm, creamy, and definitely still fruity. "Whoa," we said. "Let's order this."

Expect to see some Baroida SOE on the menu soon. We encourage you to try it both ways: alone, then with milk.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Winter Retail Coffees

We've got a ton of 12oz. retail bags of coffee on the shelves this month, and we'll be ordering them each week to ensure freshness, so if you've got a coffee lover to shop for, stop by for a bag. We'll even grind it for you (though we may also encourage you to get a home grinder for best flavor). Here's the roster of retail coffees, all of which are USDA certified organic:

Finca Mauritania (El Salvador): An all-Bourbon (heirloom coffee variety, not Kentucky booze) coffee produced by one of the top names in coffee right now, Aida Batlle. This coffee is sweet and full-bodied with enough brightness to make things interesting. I'm drinking a cup of this a day, and it never disappoints.

Decaf Cinco de Junio (Nicaragua): We're just about to finish our run of this excellent decaf coffee in the cafe (look out for Decaf La Frontera from Peru soon!). In a recent blind coffee cupping, none of our employees could pick this out as a decaf. Enough said.

Holiday Blend 2011 (Ethiopia): This is a bit of a misnomer, as Counter Culture's holiday offering is all sourced from the Konga co-op in Ethiopia, making this coffee a single origin, not a blend. While it is customary to roast Ethiopian coffees lightly, this is a medium-dark roast with a rich nutty chocolate flavor.

Espresso Rustico (blend): Our standard cafe espresso when we're not experimenting with one of CC's excellent single origin espressos. This is an all-organic espresso blend (hard to find in the espresso world). In the holiday spirit, I'll say that this one evokes chestnuts roasting on an open fire. I've been drinking this one in Americanos recently.

And, last but not least, we have a few bags left...

Finca Mauritania SOE (El Slavador): This is an espresso from the same farm as the first coffee on this list. While it's not last year's Finca Mauritania Triple Process (the espresso that opened my eyes to truly exceptional coffee), this pulp natural process espresso has an excellent balance of sweet chocolatey "bass notes" and cherry/raspberry "high notes." Only a few bags of this one are left!

Thursday, September 29, 2011


It's been far too long since we've updated this blog. Apologies.

Autumn is bringing all kinds of excitement to the cafe. We're sampling new stuff in our food case, so if you think we could use anything in particular, let us know.

We've also got maple syrup and pumpkin spice for your coffees. As the cafe's token coffee purist/snob, I feel obliged to be upset about this, but just can't bring myself to it. Maybe it's because they're just so good in steamers.

In coffee news, we're switching, sometime today or tomorrow, to Counter Culture's Espresso Rustico. It's been a great summer for CC in terms of single origin espressos (Valle del Santuario, Cinco de Junio, and Idido Espresso, from March to August!), but it's time now to return to our old favorite. We've still got plenty of the Idido Natural Sundried as our house brew, and if you come by at the right time, we may be pouring-over or French pressing it, to evoke the fruity and chocolately flavors respectively.

Lastly and perhaps most excitingly, Harrisburg's coffee scene is joined by Little Amps, transforming this weekend from a roasting-only operation to a full-scale coffeeshop. They haven't updated their website in a while either (understandably so), but I was in the other day, and both their shop (at the corner of Green and Muench streets) and their Victoria Arduiro Athena Leva are beautiful. Head over there this Saturday for their grand opening.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


We got a few requests last week for London Fogs, and a few more for tea lattes in general, so I thought I'd write a little bit about the drink.

I) Tea Lattes

To use an analogy:  Tea latte : "regular" latte :: tea : espresso.

That is to say, a tea latte is strong tea with steamed milk. We brew our tea in Finum filters, let them steep, then steam the milk and pour it over the tea. You can do this with any kind of tea, though some teas work better than others. Fruity teas, for example, have a tendency to curdle the milk.

Nope, not that one.
II) London Fog

A London Fog is a variety of tea latte that has acquired its own name (Wikipedia has the whole story). It is an Earl Grey tea latte with vanilla syrup. There are other variations, for Atlantic City (rose tea), Dublin (Irish breakfast tea), and Bombay (a redundant name for a chai latte). Inspired, we came up with Harrisburg's signature tea latte.

III) Capital City Fog

After making and sampling London and Atlantic City fogs, we wondered which of our many teas would adequately represent Harrisburg. Of course, we decided, it would have to have some smoky notes, to evoke the failed incinerator, and maybe be a green tea, both to represent Harrisburg's natural beauty, and to symbolically draw "the green" back to this bankrupt town. We settled on Rishi's Green Mint, a savory tea that Rishi's website describes as "mellow and toasty with the distinctive aroma of chocolate mint cookies and buckwheat." It combines nicely with the vanilla and the steamed milk, making a worthy signature beverage for the Capital City.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Espresso Macchiato

A few thoughts on my favorite espresso-based beverage, whose name comes from the Italian word for "marked."

We are not affiliated with, nor do we endorse Starbucks
Though it shares an important part of its name with the macchiato of Starbucks fame, this is a very different drink. The espresso macchiato is espresso marked with a bit of milk. The latte macchiato, what Starbucks has become known for, is milk marked with a bit of espresso (and often, in the Starbucks context, caramel). What I like about the espresso macchiato is the degree to which it allows the flavor notes of the espresso to shine through, while allowing for the milk to mellow out the intensity of a straight shot of espresso.

Since I've started working here and become interested in espresso, the macchiato has become my go-to drink. When I enter a new cafe and want to gauge their espresso, I buy a macchiato. Let me encourage you to do the same when you come in to the cafe here, especially when I'm on shift; in addition to being my favorite drink to drink, the macchiato is my favorite drink to make.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Espresso Knowledge and "Latte" as a Signifier

I have been thinking about lattes recently (caffe latte, not latte macchiato). As Kinsey notes in an earlier post, we sell a lot of lattes here at the cafe, and it got me wondering why that is. 

I) Expansion Of Meaning

My theory is one of cultural linguistics: Lattes are popular not necessarily because of the nature of the lattes themselves, but because "latte" has become a cultural signifier (and perhaps pejorative term) for the ongoing "high-end" or "third-wave" coffee movement; as in, "I just like a cup of regular black coffee, none of those fancy lattes or nothin'."

When someone not entirely familiar with the admittedly arcane jargon of espresso enters the store, they will sometimes cast about at the menu, glance to the tea board, and then say "I'll have a latte." Perhaps some of these customers do actually want lattes (Eric and Cathy, the owners of the store, are avid latte connoisseurs, for example), but I suspect that some who order lattes are ordering them merely because they have heard the word before. Simply because of its cultural cachet, it is a familiar term.

The meaning of "latte" has thus expanded from simply "two shots of espresso with 12-13 ounces of milk poured into them" to "a fancy coffee drink." It is an example of real-life synechdoche, which, sadly, leads to people making uninformed decisions about their coffee.

II) What To Do About It

If this describes you, feel no shame. Cultural linguistic trends are inescapable, and the esoteric knowledge of espresso takes time and energy to learn. We behind the counter don't always expect you to know what the difference between a macchiato and an americano is, and we don't judge you for not knowing. Knowing is our job, and we love to pass on our knowledge.

So next time you come in, if you're not sure what you want, feel free to ask about the strange Italian words on the menu. Let us know what you like and don't like in your coffee, and we'll try to make you something. And if you usually walk in and order a latte, just because you know that that is something that coffee people like, try something -- anything! -- else on the menu. We "coffee people" have liked just about everything up there at one time or another.